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Rice embarks on project with better care the goal in mind

WILLMAR -- How can a hospital create a culture that fosters continuous, sustained improvement in the level of care it provides?

Rice Memorial Hospital is embarking on a 15-month project to tackle precisely this issue.

"The whole focus is on what we can do to get better. That's the bottom line," said Teri Beyer, chief quality officer at Rice.

The project is part of a recently launched collaborative effort by the Minneapolis-based Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement to help health care organizations build and lead a culture of quality.

Organizational culture is seen as one of the key elements in providing safe, high-quality patient care. It's what helps drive an entire surgical team, for instance, to take responsibility for making sure every needle, clamp and sponge is accounted for before sewing the patient back up, and to repeat this routine with every single surgery.

Culture also can be one of the hardest things for an organization to change.

That's why the project, led by ICSI, is focusing on leadership and what hospital and clinic leaders can do to align their entire organization with the vision they want.

Over the next 15 months, Rice and the other participating organizations will send teams to learning sessions and participate in conference calls and an online discussion group.

Among the issues they're being asked to explore: What are the unwritten expectations that help shape their organization's internal culture? What can leaders do to create hospital-wide commitment to the organization's vision? How can culture change be "hardwired" into place so improvement is sustained over the long term?

"It really gives us an opportunity to build on all the quality work we've done here and to reinvigorate that," Beyer said.

A key piece will be involving the hospital staff and obtaining feedback from them, she said.

A survey was conducted last month to collect information on how employees perceive patient safety and quality of care. The hospital's medical staff and staff at the Rice Care Center also were asked to fill out the survey.

The results will be reported in mid-January. Rice Hospital then will put together a plan of action, based on the needs that are identified, Beyer said.

The same survey will be administered again at the end of 2008 to measure whether any cultural change took place.

"I think this is a great step for us to reenergize our staff and our culture," said Dale Hustedt, the hospital's interim chief executive.